The Ferraro brothers are gone, and so are several other players who led the Wranglers to their first appearance in the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals last season.
But despite the turnover — and the fact Las Vegas (34-31-8) barely finished better than .500 this year after compiling a league-record three straight 100-point seasons — the Wranglers are confident they can make another ECHL title run.
“I think this team does have a chance to win it all,” said coach Glen Gulutzan, who has guided Las Vegas to a 254-124-55 record in six regular seasons and a 28-21 mark in four playoff appearances. “You need goaltending, you need luck, you need to stay healthy, and you need to stay disciplined. And you’ve got to want it.”
The second-seeded Wranglers’ quest for their first Kelly Cup starts at 7:30 tonight, when they’ll host the third-seeded Bakersfield (Calif.) Condors (33-31-8) at the Orleans Arena in Game 1 of the Pacific Division semifinals.
The winner of the best-of-7 series advances to the division finals, where it will play the winner of the series between the Ontario (Calif.) Reign and the Stockton (Calif.) Thunder.
“In the first couple of series, we have as good a chance as anyone to come out of this division,” Gulutzan said.
After earning the top seed in the National Conference the past two years, the Wranglers enter this year’s playoffs in the unfamiliar underdog role.
“There’s a little less pressure going in as the underdog,” Gulutzan said.
Left wing Shawn Limpright, in his fifth season with the Wranglers, doesn’t consider the team an underdog.
“We’ve beaten every team in this conference,” he said. “Right now, any team can win. I couldn’t pick a winner if I had to.”
Glenn Fisher is expected to start in goal today for Las Vegas, but Gulutzan said Fisher will split time in the playoffs with John DeCaro.
“We’re going to use both goalies. I’m not going to lock in on one unless he earns it,” Gulutzan said. “This is a team thing. I haven’t seen a team win a championship in the last three or four years that hasn’t utilized both goalies.”
Fisher went 11-7-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage for the Wranglers this season, and DeCaro went 11-7-2 with a 2.06 GAA and .929 save percentage.
“If one guy has an off game, the other guy has to step in and win you a game,” Gulutzan said. “As long as they make the saves they should make, we should be OK.”
Las Vegas should get scoring from several sources. Adam Miller scored 44 points in 54 games this season, Chris Neiszner netted 41 in 70, Limpright had 40 in 54, and Mick Lawrence scored 34 in 38.
Also, Dan Riedel had 11 points in 17 games after being acquired in a Feb. 25 trade with the Dayton (Ohio) Bombers and has totaled 57 points in 72 games. And rookie Scott McCulloch added nine points in eight games after joining the Wranglers out of Colorado College late in the season.
Bakersfield, which went 20-10-3 after the All-Star break, is loaded. Dave Bonk finished fifth in the ECHL with 82 points in 60 games, and Mark Derlago scored 77 in 49.
In a showdown of contrasting styles, the Wranglers finished fifth in the league in goals-against average (2.67) and third in penalty-kill percentage (85.5).
“We’ve been stingy defensively all year, and we’ll have to continue to be that way,” Gulutzan said.
Yutaka Fukufuji, who went 2-3-0 with a 3.95 GAA against Las Vegas this season, will start in net for Bakersfield, which went 4-5-0 against the Wranglers this season.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.GAME DAY
BAKERSFIELD VS. LAS VEGAS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Orleans Arena